Most people know about the Great Lakes in the north-central United States, but quite possibly, many are not as familiar with the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Nevertheless, the Saint Lawrence Seaway is one of the most important parts of the Great Lakes shipping system. Prior to the Saint Lawrence Seaway there were a number of other canals. In 1871, there were locks on the Saint Lawrence River that allowed transit of vessels 186 feet long, 44 feet 6 inch wide, and 9 feet deep. The First Welland Canal, constructed from 1824–1829, had a minimum lock size of 110 feet long, 22 feet wide, and 8 feet deep, but it was generally too small to allow passage of larger ocean-going ships, which would have eliminated the majority of ships that could ship in quantity. The Welland Canal’s minimum lock size was increased to 150 feet long, 26.5 feet wide, and 9 feet deep for the Second Welland Canal, then to 270 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 14 feet deep with the Third Welland Canal, and to 766 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep with the fourth and current Welland Canal. Still, everyone knew that something else was going to have to be done soon.

The first proposals for a bi-national comprehensive deep waterway along the Saint Lawrence were made in the 1890s. In the following decades, developers proposed a hydropower project that would be inseparable from the seaway, the various governments and seaway supporters believed that the deeper water to be created by the hydro project was necessary to make the seaway channels feasible for ocean-going ships, which we all know was an essential part of the shipping business for the United States and the world. United States proposals for development up to and including World War I met with little interest from the Canadian federal government…at least at first. Later, the two national governments submitted Saint Lawrence plans to a group for study. By the early 1920s, both The Wooten-Bowden Report and the International Joint Commission recommended the project.

The Liberal Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King really wasn’t all for the project, mostly because of opposition to the project in Quebec, in 1932. He and the United States representative finally signed a treaty of intent. The treaty was submitted to the United States Senate in November of 1932 and hearings continued until a vote was taken on March 14, 1934. The majority did vote in favor of the treaty, but it failed to gain the necessary two-thirds vote for ratification. Additional attempts between the governments in the 1930s to forge an agreement Failed due to opposition by the Ontario government of Mitchell Hepburn, and that of Quebec. In 1936, John C Beukema, who was the head of the Great Lakes Harbors Association and a member of the Great Lakes Tidewater Commission, was among a delegation of eight from the Great Lakes states to meet at the White House with United States President Franklin D Roosevelt to get his support for the Seaway project.

After much back and forth wrangling, the two countries agreed that the Saint Lawrence Seaway was a necessary addition to the Great Lakes shipping industry, and it would later prove to be a vital part of it. In the years that my sister, my parents, and I lived in Superior, Wisconsin, the Saint Lawrence Seaway was something that, at least our parents remember being under construction. The opening ceremony took place on June 26, 1959, and was presided over by United States President Dwight D Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II. Once it was opened, it created a navigational channel from the Atlantic Ocean to all the Great Lakes. The seaway, made up of a system of canals, locks, and dredged waterways, extends a distance of nearly 2,500 miles, from the Atlantic Ocean through the Gulf of Saint Lawrence to Duluth, Minnesota, on Lake Superior.

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